Tag Archives: Glasgow University

Story news, writing courses & book reviews

Lots of updates!

My longish short story, The Iceberg, has been accepted for publication by Alt Hist magazine (for historical and alternate history fiction). It’s based on an amazing true story about a relative of someone lost on the Titanic who was later accused of war crimes. The magazine will be available in print or as an e-book: more info on Alt Hist at http://althistfiction.com/

Another story, Night Shift At The Cessnock Psychic Centre, has just been published by literary journal Gutter, in issue 9 available here: http://www.freightbooks.co.uk/inrude-health.html. It includes wild misreadings of tarot cards.

And my story The Comeback Tour, which is about a zombie rock star (you can’t say my subject matter isn’t varied, can you?) has been shortlisted in Almond Press’ competition for post-apocalyptic fiction. It will be published in their forthcoming e-book anthology After The Fall, which will look like this: http://www.almondpress.co.uk/

I’ve been trying to submit more lately and it seems to be paying off – I have fewer finished stories sitting around homeless!

From 1st October, I am due to teach a new 8-week course at Glasgow University’s Open Studies dept called Planning To Write?: How To Research, Structure And Craft Your Story. I’ll say more about this class nearer the time, but basically it’s for anyone who has an idea for a book, story or non-fiction project but isn’t sure how to get started, so it will look at research methods, structure, techniques and planning. Please alert anyone you think might be interested: info at http://www.gla.ac.uk/courses/openstudies/ under Creative Writing. The course is scheduled to continue in January and will also run at Strathclyde University next year.

AND from 30th September, I am also running the latest in my Now Read The Book courses – this time on short stories which have been adapted to film and including The Birds, Memento, The Shawshank Redemption, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and others. Part two (with different stories/films) will run in January. Info as above, under Literature. With all my Open Studies courses, there is a fee but they are also eligible for ILA funding and concessions.

Two more literary events which I’m hoping to attend: Pitch Live, organised by NAWE (which includes my writing coach Philippa Johnston), which is a masterclass for emerging novelists on 21st September in Edinburgh. Excellent speakers and the chance to pitch your novel at publishers and agents, with feedback: details at http://www.nawe.co.uk/DB/events/nawe-present-pitch-live-a-masterclass-for-scotlands-emerging-novelists.html
And on 5th September, the Scottish Book Trust are holding a seminar on ‘Navigating Publishing’ also in Edinburgh – I think there are still some places left, check with them at http://www.scottishbooktrust.com

FINALLY, some recent book reviews & previews what I wrote:
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig: http://bit.ly/16xk4PO
A Night In Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore: http://bit.ly/14V2Lmi
(both Scotland On Sunday)
Neurocomic by Dr Matteo Farinella & Dr Hana Ros: http://www.list.co.uk/article/54229-dr-matteo-farinella-and-dr-hana-ros-neurocomic/
My Notorious Life By Madame X by Kate Manning: http://www.list.co.uk/article/51087-kate-manning-my-notorious-life-by-madame-x/
A Wolf In Hindleheim by Jenny Mayhew: http://www.list.co.uk/article/51048-jenny-mayhew-a-wolf-in-hindelheim/
Book Festival previews:
Fairest 2: Hidden Kingdom by Lauren Beukes & Inaki Miranda: http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/54285-fairest-2-hidden-kingdom-reimagines-rapunzel-as-an-anime-heroine/
50 Shades Of Feminism: http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/54285-fairest-2-hidden-kingdom-reimagines-rapunzel-as-an-anime-heroine/
(all The List magazine)

Phew!

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Performance And Presentation

Yesterday I found myself repeatedly walking out in front of a small group of people and swearing at them in the accent of an American wiseguy who’s lived through a zombie plague. And by the tenth or so time, I got past the nerves and embarrassment and – somehow – I actually felt like that character. He was coming out of me in a way that has only ever happened before at a keyboard; it was a revelation!

I was taking part in an excellent workshop on Performance And Presentation, organised (and subsidised) by the nice folk at Scottish Book Trust and led by the frankly awesome vocal coach Alex Gillon. They hold these occasionally and I really recommend it for anyone who has to perform or read in public, because I found it extremely useful. In fact, it gave me a lot to think about and I suspect that parts of her advice will continue to sink in gradually.

Alex really gave it her all – I find it tiring to be ‘on’ for just a short while, but she was ‘on’ all day, encouraging us, giving very detailed feedback and seeming to very quickly grasp how to display each person’s story, poem or play to its best advantage. It was really noticeable that certain parts which passed fairly anonymously on first hearing stood out after she had given their authors some suggestions: the jokes were revealed as genuinely funny, the descriptions were more evocative, the dialogue more believable. On the page these might have worked right away, but listening to everyone else I could immediately hear how what they’d written seemed better just by being performed better (and I’m sure it applied to my piece too).

I feel reasonably confident about reading in public now, thanks in part to the weekly further education classes I run at Glasgow University where – though I do try to get people to volunteer! – I usually end up having to read out the passages we’re discussing to the class and try to perform them a little. However, I haven’t had any acting experience, unless you count my triumphs in the St Lucy’s Primary productions of Finnegan’s Wake (the ballad, not the James Joyce version) and The Broons (my Daphne was acclaimed).

But I’ve only read things in my own voice so far. When I recorded The Goode Daughter for Tramway’s Algebra journal, I couldn’t manage the right accent for a young 17th Century child on trial in Salem, so had to read it as Scottish – not ideal. So for this workshop, I took along an unpublished story which is a monologue of a middle-aged American man. In my mind, he’s got a New Jersey accent and sounds like Tony Soprano; the phrasing of the story is written that way.

When I first read it for Alex and the other workshop participants, I chickened out though and tried it in my own voice. It didn’t work, obviously. She gave me the confidence to try it as American, but of course for that to work, for people to suspend disbelief to that extent (because the accent is never going to be perfect), I’d have to really commit to it and completely believe in it myself. Any trace of embarrassment would just make the whole thing silly. I couldn’t quite match Alex’s remarkable switch from her own very posh RP voice to convincing streetwise American, but I think that with practice I can make the thing work as a funny, slightly weird performance piece.

As well as specific advice for that reading, I came away with lots of great notes about performing in general, from breath control to punctuation beats. It was also really nice to meet the other people taking part: two published novelists, a short story writer, a playwright, two poets, all of us with very diverse work. Now I just need to line up another reading so I can try it all out!

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July update

Not too much writing news to report this month, just keeping on going … well, sort of. I have to admit I had a post-Hay Fest slump and took a couple of weeks off, then went to Hawick for a retirement party ceilidh, but I’ve pulled myself together now and particularly looking forward to going away next month for a full-on, no computers/phones/roads week of island isolation up north where my plan is to completely revise the first section of the book and, if possible, also revise a long short story that’s been sitting around for a few months.

I have been doing other work though so here’s a few links:
Book review of ‘Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History’ by Florence Williams in Scotland on Sunday – interesting popular science book.
Book review of ‘You Came Back’ by Christopher Coake in The Scotsman – lovely new novel.
Non-Olympic telly preview – I made sure to get a dig in at Fifty Shades of Grey.
A piece about the reaction to Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom (it has got worse since I wrote that: the latest “are you KIDDING me?” moment is that the supposedly brilliant TV news producer woman somehow is unable to understand basic economic concepts).

Plus a few radio appearances: Good Morning Scotland on the 28th to discuss the Olympics Opening Ceremony, Call Kaye this morning (30th) and on the 15th, the Shereen Nanjiani Sunday morning show – I’ve done tons of radio but never been on this show before. It’s quite intense, because you’re on for the whole hour and the discussions basically cover all the main news stories of the week and the Sunday papers. I really had to swot up, particularly since the other guests (veteran foreign editor David Pratt and former investment banker turned consultant Ian Blackford) are so knowledgeable – bit nervous but I think I did alright, really enjoyed it anyway.

In other news, here’s the info for the writing workshop I’m due to teach next month – please pass on if you know anyone who might be interested.
Writing Historical Fiction – Thursday 23rd August 10am-4pm – Strathclyde University Centre for Lifelong Learning – £30 – 0141 548 2116
Interested in writing a short story or novel set in the past? Whether Ancient Rome, the Victorian era or WWII, each historical period brings its own challenges for writers: how do you convey the way people lived and talked then? How do you choose the right details to really give a flavour of the time? How do you create believable characters and storylines? What resources are available, how much research is necessary – and how much is too much? This class is jointly led by a writer [that’s me!] and an historian [my good pal Dr Ben Shepherd, Reader in History at Caledonian University, author of War In The Wild East and other books], with advice, discussion and exercises used to help you find ideas, get the most out of research sources and write great historical fiction (though many elements will apply to any kind of writing). It is suitable for both beginners and more experienced writers. Strathclyde University Summer Programme online.
There will also be a longer version of the class, with weekly writing critiques and exercises, running at Glasgow University on Wednesday evenings at 6.30pm from 3rd October for eight weeks (details: 0141 330 1835) and again at Strathclyde University from January 2013 (details: 0141 548 5778).
In both terms I’ll also be running literature classes, including Now Read The Book II – the sequel to last year’s book-to-film adaptations class.

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